Georgia Southern University President Brooks Keel made a boastful remark as he introduced Willie Fritz as the Eagles’ new football coach.
“Georgia Southern is supposed to win,” Keel said. “We will win every time, every place, everywhere and every game. That is what we do here at Georgia Southern.”
Fritz also exuded confidence at the podium.
“Our goal is to win every game next year,” he said. “That’s how I always look at it. I don’t care who we’re playing.”
But Athletic Director Tom Kleinlein reined in the expectations a bit as he talked about Georgia Southern’s new home in the Football Bowl Subdivision and the Sun Belt Conference.
“We understand there’s going to be a cultural change in education with our fan base,” Kleinlein said, “to understand that seven and eight wins at the next level is a good year. It’s a great year — because we’re playing at a higher level of football.”
That win total also would provide job security for Fritz, whose contract with Georgia Southern includes a performance clause. Kleinlein said Fritz’s contract is a one-year agreement with the university, with three provisional years tacked on through the Georgia Southern University Athletic Foundation.
If Fritz wins seven games and the football program’s NCAA Academic Progress Rate remains above 940, his contract will automatically roll over for another year, according to Kleinlein. A perfect APR score is 1,000, and teams that fail to score 925 may be penalized by the NCAA.
“So if he comes in and produces, with wins and losses and academically like he’s supposed to, we keep him on as our coach,” Kleinlein said. “We want to try to create stability in our program and we want to incentivize our head coach that, if he goes out and does the things we’re asking him to do, we’re behind him.”
Fritz’s predecessor, Jeff Monken, had a base salary of $260,000 in his final season coaching Georgia Southern. Fritz’s base salary will be $300,000, according to Kleinlein.
“The salary and the staff pool that we’ve offered to Coach Fritz was actually the same salary and staff pool that we offered to Jeff Monken prior to him going to Army,” Kleinlein said.
The Eagles will play a Sun Belt schedule this year and be eligible for the conference championship and a bowl game appearance in 2015. Fritz’s salary is “equivalent to some people already in the league,” Kleinlein said.
“We haven’t played a game in the Sun Belt,” he said, “so to sit down and say we’re going to start paying people at the highest level of the Sun Belt, we didn’t feel like that was right. And to pay people at the lowest level of the Sun Belt, we didn’t feel like that was right.”
The contract also includes a buyout clause, in case another school comes courting Fritz.
“If Willie Fritz comes in here and he wins a million games and somebody comes and offers him a million dollars and he decides to leave this institution, at whatever point he decides that, he owes us the remainder of the university contract,” Kleinlein said.
Along with Kleinlein, the coaching search committee included Keel and his wife Tammy Schalue; GSU Vice President for Business and Finance Rob Whitaker; faculty athletics representative Chris Geyerman; former football players Tracy Ham and Tim Durden; and Athletic Foundation members Ted Smith (chair), Trey Sheppard (chair-elect) and Phil Moore (immediate past chair).
Kleinlein said he “talked to about 20” candidates before bringing four to campus for interviews — Fritz, Navy offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper, Wofford head coach Mike Ayers and Auburn running backs coach Tim Horton.
Though many names circulated through the rumor mill — including Vanderbilt co-defensive coordinator and former GSU defensive coordinator Brent Pry, and Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo — Kleinlein said the only person offered the job was Fritz.
“I don’t know where it was coming from, but I’d like to meet that ‘reliable source’ that keeps throwing all that stuff out there,” he said. “One man was offered the job, and one man is here as our head coach.”
While Georgia Southern officials are touting potential revenue from bowl appearances and televised games, the move to FBS also will bring increased expenses, including the raised salaries for Fritz and his staff, additional scholarships, higher travel costs, more equipment and more support staff.
Paulson Stadium is in the midst of a $10 million expansion, funded by an increase in student fees. Season ticket prices will not increase this year, but athletic donors will be expected to boost their contributions to retain some of the benefits they have enjoyed in the past.
“Absolutely, the funding is there” to move to FBS, Kleinlein said. “We’ve passed the student fees. Our budget is right in line with some schools in the Sun Belt Conference. We feel very confident, moving forward, that we have the resources and the ability to walk into the Sun Belt Conference and compete across the board in all sports.”
Prior to reaching the Football Championship Subdivision title game twice in his four years at Sam Houston State, Fritz coached for 13 years at Central Missouri and four at Blinn College, a two-year school. Kleinlein touted Fritz’s track record of fundraising and building relationships, particularly at the smaller programs where “it was a necessity.”
“With some of these programs he talked about, if he wanted summer school, he had to go raise money for it,” Kleinlein said. “We’re at a level where he looks at our resources and he goes, ‘Wow, look at everything I’ve got.’”